Our society has a food problem. Nearly one out of every five Americans lives with food insecurity, while one of out three live with obesity. Because our culture is saturated with processed, life-draining, addictive and seemingly cheap industrial food products, it is common for Americans to suffer from both food insecurity and obesity at the same time.
As Fred Bahnson writes, food insecurity and the obesity epidemic are “both flip sides of the same coin, both results of a food system that’s very good at producing calories but very poor at producing health.”
With his food and faith initiatives through the Wake Forest Divinity School, Fred is doing great work to waken the faith community to this, even as it seems that most participate zealously in the gluttony, then pray that God will supernaturally heal the sickness and death that naturally follows. Wake Forest recently added an M.Div. program with a food concentration. They sponsor the Food, Faith and Religious Leadership Initiative, drawing attention and resources to this vital issue.
It is encouraging to see this kind of attention being given to the connection between faith and food justice, and it is not limited to what is happening at Wake Forest. At Duke, Asbury and many other seminaries, there is a significant and growing emphasis on caring for creation, including our health and our bodies. Through its Partners in Health and Wholeness program, the North Carolina Council of Churches is promoting food justice and alerting folks to the dangers of the industrial food system. There are many other examples as well. Even as I continue to be dismayed and saddened by the carnage our destructive food system is leaving in its trail, the work of Fred Bahnson and those like him is encouraging.
But sadly, these great initiatives continue to be the exceptions, not the norm. In Jim Harnish’s book Simple Rules for Money, he quotes conclusions from a study by Purdue University sociologist Ken Ferraro, who tracked the relationship between religion and body weight. Ferraro wrote, “America is becoming known as a nation of gluttony and obesity and churches are a feeding ground for the problem.” He noted that although churches have historically raised concerns about most injurious behaviors, such as smoking and alcohol abuse, “overeating is not considered a great sin–it has become the accepted vice.” From my experience, Ferraro understates the situation. It seems to me that for the vast majority of Christians overeating isn’t considered merely an “accepted vice”–rather, it’s not considered a sin or a vice at all.
Gluttony is one of the traditional seven deadly sins (along with its usual companion sloth). Ever heard a sermon on gluttony?
But as I pointed out in my post of a few days ago, it’s not just a question of eating too much (although that is an essential factor). It’s also a question of the kinds of things we’re eating. The industrial food complex spends tens of billions of dollars annually in advertising intended to convince us (and our children) to eat fattening food made from the sugars and hydrogenated fats derived from the processing of corn and soybeans. An astonishing 90% of the food we eat in America is processed. Even in moderation that diet would be destructive of health, and because these foods have been stripped of any nutrient value they would have in their natural states, we’re more likely to overeat, because they don’t trigger the body’s natural “stop eating, you’re full” mechanism.
Recently a friend who works at the local food bank was telling me about her work helping educate teachers in the difficulties of spotting malnutrition in children these days. In the past malnourished kids were always underweight. Today, that’s not necessarily the case. Some are, of course. But many are obese. To return to Bahnson’s quote, delivering calories is not the same as delivering nutrition.
It’s time we stop either a) ignoring this problem, b) pretending it doesn’t exist and/or c) expecting the government to solve it. And to return to a theme from my earlier post, it’s way past time the church started being part of the solution, instead of part of the problem.